Maria Laach

This past weekend, Aaron and I went exploring.
We were finally fully recovered from the first few hectic weeks in this new country, and were itching to look around at all the incredible historical places that were just a stone’s throw away from our hotel.
After a hearty breakfast of pancakes, eggs, and bacon (always good to eat well before adventuring!) we took to the autobahn. Aaron is now quite skilled in the German art of autobahn driving, so we sped along quickly through snowy German forests and past fields lying fallow, but looking for all the world like they were sprinkled with cotton plants. The snow of the day before had melted from the roads, and left the country pleasantly clean-looking and bright under a cloudy sky.
After about a half hour of driving, we took a winding road through the country for some miles, which suddenly opened out on our destinaton: the ancient Benedictine Abbey of Maria Laach. The turretted and steepled abbey rose suddenly out of the forest on our left, and on the right a large lake (Laacher See) opened out under an overcast sky. We parked and walked up to the back of the abbey, the romanesque monument towering over us in a grand display of architectural prowess.
We arrived a little early for the organ concert we had planned on attending at noon, and so we snuck in quietly and sat on the dark wooden pews at the back of the cathedral as the black-robed monks finished singing their latin mass. The leader of the mass was speaking in German, so I did not understand any of the words spoken, but the meaning transcended the foreign languages and as the murmured syllables fled up in echoes to the dark vault of the ceiling, I felt a sense of reverenace and awe equal to what the author of Hebrews describes in chapter 12 of his book.
After a few minutes, the monks filed out quietly and we were left alone with the dozen or so other onlookers who seemed to have come for the same purpose. As the noon-bell struck high up in the steeple, an older gentleman wearing black walked out and introduced himself and the program as he stood behind a lectern made from the outstretched wings of a golden eagle. I only caught the meaning of a few of his words (he too, naturally, spoke in German) but I was excited to hear him say “Bach” and “Johannes Brahms.”

The gentleman walked to side of the nave and disappeared from our sight, but a moment later the great organ began to sound throughout the stone hall and the whole place was filled with music. The concert lasted about half an hour, and in that time I had the opportunity to steal glances around me at the inside of the incredible church.

The abbey was founded in 1093, but has been restored several times since then. The walls were mainly composed of grey stone: mostly light grey with detailing in a darker shade. The only color came from the stained glass windows (these shone dully, as the sun outside was mainly obscured by clouds), and the ornately painted ceiling above the altar in the front of the church. Like the monks, the hall seemed clothed in darkness, but was illuminated by the dozen or so massive chandeleirs that hung between the pillars. Once I suppose they held candles, they now had been replaced with the soft glow of electric lights.
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The item in the room that kept drawing my eye however, was the ornate stone canopy that covered the altar. The canopy was Gothic or Romanesque in style, and upheld  by six slender columns that must have been incredibly strong for their size: they seemed too delicate to be supporting such an ornate structure.
After the concert ended, Aaron and I walked around the old structure, reading in the english guidebook about the sources and dates of each of the artifacts housed inside. We then strolled outside where the sun had at last begun to peek through the clouds. The monks of the abbey have crafthouses and gardens where they supply the goods for the gardenhouse, grocery, gallery, and craft store that now take up the northern side of the grounds.
At the bookstore I purchased a “stocknagel”: a little pewter medallion with an engraving of the abbey and the words “Maria Laach” inscribed beneath. I had just read in a book about Germany of these stocknagels, and was excited to have found one myself. Many German towns and places of interest sell them, and they are meant to be nailed onto and adorn wooden walking sticks as momentos of the places the owner visited.
After a brisk walk down to the lake and admiring the abbey from the waterside, we packed ourselves back into the car and headed for Mayen. However, as I have written quite enough to tax the patience of even the most avid blog-reader, I think I will save our adventures in Mayen for another day.

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